I don’t expect George Mason to win the NCAA tournament this year, but I will be rooting for them (along with a majority of the nation, I suspect).
The why is simple – I respect the hell out of the school’s commitment to doing it right. I find that I’m watching fewer games in all sports and at all levels these days, and when I think about why, I think it has a lot to do with just being sick and tired of the corruption, the abuses, the cheating, the win-at-all-costs mentality, the punks, the thugs, and the dumbass notion that money is the only measuring stick worth talking about. This is the culture of sport in America, and it’s appalling.
I play sports. Always have. Baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, track, x-country, football, golf, tennis, water polo, wrestling – you name it, at some point I’ve tried it. “Jock” is a significant part of my self-identity, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily have all-world skills in any of the games I’ve played. And I love sports. If I didn’t get a two-hour run of hoops in somewhere, it was not, by definition, a perfect day.
But I was raised to understand that while you want to win, you try your best to win, you give your all to win, it’s better to lose the right way than win the wrong way. Sportsmanship matters. Being a great athlete is less important than being a great human being. And in my house, you didn’t play unless you made the grades in your classes. Period. That rule was laid down by my grandfather, who had been a pretty good athlete in his day, too.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I gone after baseball the way I did my academics. I was a pretty decent player, actually. Who knows? But would I want pro-level success in the sport if it meant I had to be like, say, Barry Bonds? Feck, no.
This weekend, against all odds, an 11-seed from a mid-major gets to dance on the big stage, and as Adrian Wojnarowski’s column at ESPN.com explains, it will be a rare case of a program that insists on doing it right getting some richly deserved attention.